Pakistan should return Sarabjit to India: Asma Jehangir

March 20th, 2008 - 3:38 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, March 20 (IANS) Pakistan should return Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh, noted human rights activist Asma Jehangir said here Thursday. Both countries should return each other’s prisoners, she added. “India and Pakistan should return each other’s prisoners held in their respective countries and keep politics out of it. Sarabjit Singh for one, should be returned to India,” Jehangir told reporters here.

Sarabjit Singh was arrested in 1990 near the India-Pakistan border. He was charged and later convicted for spying as well as carrying out four bombings that killed 14 people and injured dozens more in Lahore and Faisalabad. Pakistan’s Supreme Court upheld his 1991 death sentence in 2006 and he was to be executed April 1.

On Wednesday, the execution was put on hold till April 30.

On the invitation of the Indian government for a special mission March 3-20, Jehangir, who is a UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, travelled to Amritsar, Jammu, Srinagar, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Thiruvananthapuram, Bhubaneswar and Lucknow, besides Delhi.

She has held talks with government officials, policy makers and academics as well as members and leaders of religious communities and civil society organizations on the issue of freedom of religion and belief.

In Delhi, Jehangir spoke extensively about the rise in religious intolerance in Gujarat in the last 10 years.

“In my discussions with victims of communal violence in Gujarat I could see their continuing fear which is exacerbated by the distress that justice continues to evade most victims and survivors.

“Even today there is increasing isolation of Muslims in certain areas. The assertion of the state government that development by itself will heal the wounds does not seem to be realistic,” she said.

She also talked about rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu and Kashmir.

“I was deeply touched to hear of the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits in the 1990s following a campaign of threats and violence.

“They remain dislocated to this day despite the fact the de-escalation of violence in Jammu and Kashmir has had a positive impact on religious tolerance. They should be rehabilitated in their original place,” Jehangir said.

She further said that films are a strong medium to send out messages of communal harmony.

“The visual arts industry in India has played an important role in public education regarding religious tolerance. It remains a target of mob pressure. Films are effectively banned by non-state actors through intimidation.

“While any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to violence needs to be prosecuted, this subtle form of self-censorship begs the question how the state could prevent the build-up of an atmosphere of fear of repercussions and mob pressure,” she said.

“There are other issues of concern with regard to my mandate. These include the legal link between Scheduled Caste status and religious affiliation, the impact of ‘anti-conversion laws’ in several states as well as the concerns voiced by Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and atheists.

“I intend to discuss these issues in my detailed report to the Human Rights Council which I will submit soon,” Jehangir added.

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